In Denton, TX on Thursday night, Louisiana Tech head coach Skip Holtz and his Bulldogs showed that they are the real deal.
So what changed so quickly? After looking like a team that couldn't get out of it's own way last year, and getting completely overmatched two weeks ago at Oklahoma, the Bulldogs look like they had an extreme makeover.
First, it helps to have a quarterback. Cody Sokol transferred in from Iowa and has transformed the offense. He has started slow in all three games, but over the last three quarters of those games his stats are outstanding: 55 of 81 (67.9%) for 663 yards and all nine of his touchdowns on the season.
Defensive Coordinator Manny Diaz has instituted his relentless pressure style attack in Ruston and it has been effective. UNT's first 9 drives and 12 of their first 13 ended in a punt or a fumble. The Mean Green didn't get a first down until 2:03 left to go in the first half and they didn't score until 3:07 to go in the 3rd quarter. Against ULL, Tech held the Cajuns to just one touchdown in their first 11 drives. Tech also forced two fumbles and had an interception in Lafayette.
Another key for Louisiana Tech is the offensive line. Mitchell Bell and Tre Carter have benefited from having a year under their belt as starters and Joseph Brunson, Darrell Brown, and Rick Greenwalt have all improved from last year as well. As a unit, they are giving Sokol plenty of time to throw and Bell is a truck on that right side for Kenneth Dixon to run behind.
Holtz is calling the plays and the offense is a lot less predictable. The Bulldogs will line up in multiple formations and spread the ball out to several playmakers. The pure spread system from a year ago did not fit the personnel and this year's offense is much more fun for the players.
Illinois transfer Houston Bates along with Sokol coming from Iowa have really provided much needed leadership and top end talent to the Bulldog's roster. The team had decent talent a year ago, but they relied too much on Kenneth Dixon to bail them out of tough games. Now the team has several leaders to follow including Levander Liggins, Tony Johnson, Vernon Butler, and Bates on defense as well as Dixon and Sokol on offense. This leadership, along with the more aggressive approach on both sides of the ball, has emboldened the younger guys to play hard and not worry as much about mistakes.
Louisiana Tech has gone from an also-ran in the western division of Conference USA to a front runner almost overnight. It makes home games against UTEP, UTSA, and Rice that much more important and exciting for fans to look forward to. There is still lot of football left to play and that is a good thing for Louisiana Tech in 2014.